Watching and Remembering
Therefore watch and remember
Sometimes charting the course for the future comes by looking to the past.
I did not have the privilege of growing up in a Christian home. It was a good home in many ways, but one in which Christ was not present. During my childhood years, no one in our family knew the Lord though we attended a sizable Methodist meeting in town. I don't ever recall hearing the Gospel preached there, but if it was, we were blind to it and eventually our family lost interest and stopped attending. For a number of years, we were part of the "unchurched" segment of society until a sickness in our family providentially stirred interest in attending "church" once again. At first, my ten-year-old sister began attending the Friday night Bible club program at a local assembly. It started through her friend who invited my sister to this program. "Points" were awarded to those who brought others and this friend brought her. It was not long afterward that my sister upon hearing the Gospel, made a profession of faith in Christ. Eventually, my mother whose spiritual interest had peaked began regularly attending the assembly on the Lord's Day. She also heard the Gospel faithfully proclaimed and trusted the Savior. Simply put, God was at work in our family.
I came to know the Lord Jesus as my Savior just prior to my seventeenth birthday. It was through the youth ministry of this same local assembly. I was invited to attend a youth activity through a family who had by this time befriended my mother. The invitation caught me off guard, but strangely I accepted--strange for the reason that I had my own circle of friends and was quite content to stay within that circle. To this day, I don't know why I accepted, other than the fact that the Lord was directing my steps. With some reticence, I headed out of the house that night, not knowing what to expect. When I arrived at the home of the youth meeting, I witnessed a group of teens my own age that genuinely seemed to be enjoying themselves. It was very obvious to me that this was a different brand of people. They were not like the friends that I kept company with - friends who put each other down and strove for popularity. They were different in their attitudes and in their words toward each other - and they were very kind to me and included me in every activity of the night. Near the end of the evening, someone shared a brief message from the Bible and closed in prayer. I don't recall what was said that night, but I do remember this: there was a warmth and friendliness toward me and a joyful, spiritual atmosphere that pervaded that gathering. It made a deep impression upon me and there was no question in my mind that I wanted more. It served to open the door for me to regularly visit that assembly. In time, after I also heard the Gospel faithfully proclaimed, my spiritual eyes were opened, and I too, joined my sister and mother in trusting the Lord Jesus as my Savior.
In the years that followed, I took an active part in the life of the meeting. Youth group, college and career events, Bible conferences and regularly meeting on a weekly basis to remember the Lord with like-minded believers were all vital aspects of my early development as a Christian. The constant spiritual encouragement I received from older brethren in the assembly was truly a blessing from the Lord and was of inestimable value in my early years as a new believer. It launched me well in the Christian life, making up (in my estimation) for not receiving the "benefits" of being raised in a Christian home.
Looking back, I can say unequivocally that there were a number of key spiritual components that contributed greatly to my deep appreciation and love for the assemblies. One of those components was evangelistic zeal. It has been a salient feature in assembly history and it was prevalent also in my early experience as a Christian. No matter what the event or meeting, opportunity was always sought to bring in the Gospel. There was always the reminder to the assembly to invite unsaved friends to meetings of the Church and to bring them under the sound of the Gospel. It was the way in which those in my family found the Lord and it was the way others in the meeting came to know Him also.
Today, however there is a serious challenge for assemblies of the Lord's people to maintain this evangelistic zeal. The avalanche of materialistic and secular influences in our post-modern society threatens to smother the Church's influence and extinguish the flame of evangelistic fervor. The Lord reminded His disciples in the Olivet Discourse that in a future day iniquity will abound and the love of many will grow cold. (Matt. 24:12). Likewise, it is easy for Christians to get caught up in the spirit of the age and to allow their hearts to also grow cold toward the spiritual needs of others and forget their responsibility to the unsaved. Like Israel in the days of Isaiah, it is possible for believers to "take delight in approaching God" and yet forget their responsibility in the Gospel. (Isa. 58) As I speak at different places, I often hear the comment: "Thank you for preaching the Gospel" - a nice compliment, but a subtle indicator that Gospel preaching has taken a back seat. Remembering the words of the Lord Jesus when He said "Follow Me, and I will make you fishers of men" should challenge us to walk more closely with Him so that our "fishing" skills are improved upon. If we indeed follow Him, He will make us fishers of men since we will be conformed to His image and draw others to Him through our words and deeds.
Not only has evangelistic zeal been a hallmark of assembly life, but so has the diligent study of the Word. It did not take me long to see that there was a strong emphasis on the personal Bible study. I observed normal people from every walk of life genuinely interested in learning and applying the Word of God to their lives and striving to please the Lord. This was instrumental in shattering my previous misconceptions of a Christian. I was strongly encouraged from the very beginning to set time aside each day for personal prayer and Bible study. This habit has remained with me through the years and I thank the Lord for those godly men and women who strongly impressed upon me the need for this spiritual priority. Wonderfully, the Lord that He has raised up many in our day who are following in the steps of the spiritual giants who have gone before us, yet there is still a dearth of Bible understanding and application even among the assemblies of the Lord's people. What defined the assembly movement in previous generations is seriously being challenged today more than ever. There is a truly a famine in the land and the prognosis is not good unless there is a widespread return to the Book. Like Isaac, there needs to be deliberate change of direction from the place of compromise and a conscious effort to rediscover the ancient wells of testimony that have been covered over by the modern-day Philistines. (Gen. 26) And to make matters worse, popular preachers looking for an audience are quickly removing the landmarks that have been established by former generations. Appropriate are the words of Proverbs 22:28: "Remove not the ancient landmark, which thy fathers have set."
Another truth prevalent in the assembly movement that figured highly in my development as a Christian is the truth of the priesthood of all believers. From my earliest days as a Christian, I was faithfully taught from the Scriptures that the Risen Christ has imparted to every believer spiritual gifts that He expects them to use for the building up of His Church to the glory of God. This was so revolutionary to me in the light of my denominational upbringing that it had an immense and immediate influence upon my level of involvement within the local assembly. The Church was not for spectators - each believer had a vital part. As I discovered and embraced this truth, it triggered a spiritual desire within me to exercise any ability that I had in the service of the Lord. Knowing that I may be called upon to speak or lead a Bible study spurred me on in a greater way to know the Word more accurately. The rich literary heritage of assembly writers provided a vast reservoir of truth available at my disposal. Coupled with the fatherly guidance of older brethren in the Lord, it fueled my desire for personal study and gave me the impetus to share the truth I had learned with those around me. This aspect - the constant reminder to diligently study the Word and live a separated life was highly significant in forging my experience as a new Christian. The doctrine of the priesthood of all believers remains a solid distinctive in many assemblies today. But adherence to this truth is also being challenged in our day. Successful "mega" churches are a powerful draw offering a comfortable, sanitized, program-oriented experience. Though there are many positive aspects to these churches, they can on the other hand substantially limit the ordinary Christian from experiencing and appreciating the valuable benefits of being workers together with Him. The strength of many assemblies has always been in fostering the sense of responsibility of each person in the meeting. I was clearly reminded of this when I was told the story of a believer who gave a powerful message at a funeral service of a fellow Christian. After the service was over, a relative approached one of the elders from that assembly and asked who the "reverend" was and where he got his training. The reply was simple and shocking to the inquirer: "He's not a "reverend", he's just a retired, oil burner mechanic". It was a powerful testimony to the validity of this claim. Certainly, a scholarly approach to the study of the Scriptures should never be shunned (and perhaps needs to be increased!) but it is no substitute for dependence upon the Holy Spirit and a life of separation to powerfully communicate God's truth.
Much more could be said of the significant contribution that the assembly movement has had on evangelicalism; truths such as the plurality of elders, the weekly observance of the Lord's Supper, the autonomy of the local assembly and the doctrine of the imminent return of Christ. All have been part and parcel of assembly history simply because they could be substantiated from the Bible by godly men and women who were diligent in their study of the Word and bold enough to take a stand for Christ. But as the day darkens and end of the age seems to be drawing to a close, this same level of commitment will be required of us if the truth of God's Word is to shine forth to a world lost in sin and to "unbelieving" believers. May it always be so for the Lord's sake.